The U Visa: Obtaining Legal Status For Victims Of Serious Crimes
While voulnteering at Last year’s Community Law Night, held at the Redwood City Hall of Justice, I hapened to overhear a coversation between my neighbor volunteer attorney and a community member who had been the victim of a hit-and-run incident.
The man wanted to know how he could obtain some type of compensation to pay his medical bills resulting from being run over. The complicating factor was the man had no legal immigration status and was worried about apllying for funds from the California Victim Compensation Program because he might be reported to immigration. Before the man left the interview, I leaned over and told him he might be eligible to obtain legal status, directly as a result of being the victim of a particularly serious crime – through a relatively new form of relief, the U Visa. Depending on specific facts of the hit-and-run, the crime could fall under the category of a “felonious assault” and render him eligible for a U Visa.
Many members of the legal profesion may not be aware of this type of visa. This article is intended to provide a brief introduction and synopsis of how the U Visa works. The U Visa is one of the newest types of visas available under federal immigration law. It is specifically intended for victims of particularly serious crimes, if they report and assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the crime.
If granted, a U visa can waive most issues of admisibility and will grant lawful status to an undocumented alien for up to four years. This non-immigrant status will permit the crime victim to live and work in the U.S. for the duration of the U visa period. At the end of the third year, the U visa recipient may be eligible to apply to adjust his or her status to that of a lawful permanent resident (commonly known as “Green Card”).
The U visa is a powerful tool for legal practitioners, not only immigration attorneys, but anyone who interacts with the numerous aliens who are undocumented, either because they entered the United States without inspection, or have overstayed their visas. It behooves anyone who comes into regular contract with the immigrant community to become aware and informed about this type of relief that can grant a crime victim legal status, not only for himself or herself, but also for his or her immediate family, spouse and minor children. If United States Citizenship and Immigration Services grants the U visa petition for non-immigrant status, any prior order of exclusion, deportation or removal issued by the Department of Homeland Security secretary will be cancelled by operation of law as of the date of the grant. 8 C.F.R. secs 214.14 (c) (5) (i) & 214 (f) (6)
The U visa classification was established under the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act of 2000. Subsequently, non-immigrant victims of certain criminal activity began applying for interim U visa relief, receiving deferred action status until regulations were issued on September 17, 2007.
Congress created the U visa to encourage immigrant crime victims to report crimes without fear of deportation and to “encourage law enforcement to better serve immigrant crime victims”. Primarily intended as a crime fighting tool, this visa enables law enforcement to provide for the victim’s safety, protection and recovery from trauma. Crime victims without legal status are thus more likely to report crimes and assist law enforcement and prosecutor if they realize in doing so, they will not be deported. The community will be safer as a result. Victims of Trafficking & Violence Prevention Act of 2000. Pub. L. 106- 386 section 1513 (a) (Oct. 28, 2000).
The congressional statement of the U visa is “[T]o create a new non-immigrant visa classification that will strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to detect, investigate, and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens, and other crimes … gainst aliens, while offering protection to victims of such offenses in keeping with the humanitarian interests of the United States. This visa will encourage law enforcement officials to better serve immigrant crimes commited against aliens”
There are four statutory requirements for U non-immigrant status: The alien (1) has suffered physical or mental abuse as a result of having been victim of certain criminal activity; (2) possesses information concerning such criminal activity; (3) has been helpful or is likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; and (4) the criminal activity violated the laws of the United States or ocurred in the United States.
The applicant must also have been the victim of one or more qualifying crimes; the attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the acts, or any similar activity in violation of federal, state, or local criminal law. The list includes:
* Rape *Torture *Trafficking *Incest *Domestic Violence *Sexual Assault *Abusive Sexual Contact *Prostitution *Sexual exploitation *Female genital mutilation *Being held hustage *Peonage *Involuntary servitude *Slave trade *Kidnapping *Abduction *Unlawful criminal restraint *False imprisonment *Blackmail *Extortion *Manslaughter *Murder *Felonious assault *Witness tampering *Obstruction of justice *Perjury
8 U.S.C. section 1101 (a) (15) (U) (iii)
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has sole jurisdiction over the adjudication of petition for U visa status and all application are routed to the Vermont Service Center for processing.
A person seeking U visa status must submit a form I-918 “Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status” and include with it a form I-918 Supplemental B, “U Nonimmigrant Status Certification” along with supporting documents required to establish the four statutory requirements for U visa eligibility. The Form I-918, Supplemental B, must be signed by a qualifying certifier, such as a law enforcement official if no criminal prosecution has taken place, or the district attorney’s office if a prosecution has commenced. 8 C.F.R. sections 214.14 (a) (3) and 214.14 (c) (2) (i)
By preparing and signing the form I-918, Suplemental B, certifier is not conferring legal immigration status upon the person making the application, or making any determination of the alien’s eligibility. The certification of the suplemental B Form only confirms that the victim has been helpful in the reporting, investigation, and /or prosecution of the criminal involved in the illegal activity. A victim who has received certification and was granted a U visa has an ongoing obligation to provide assistance. 8 C.F.R. sec 214.14 (a) (5)
Our office has successfuly petitioned for U visa status on behalf of several of our clients. It is one of the most powerful tools available to give someone status when there is no other form of relief available. It is imperative that we, as legal professionals, ask each and every time we meet with someone not in immigration status, “Have you been the victim of a serious crime?” if the answer is yes, “Did you report it to the authorities?” This question, if answered in the affirmative, can dramatically change someone’s life, bring a person out of the shadows and give that person and his or her loved ones an opportunity to fully become members of the community, giving him or her a life without the fear of being discovered and deported at any moment.